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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

strawberry history page

BerryStrawberries with whip cream. Berry Good

More than half of U.S. kids pick strawberries as their favorite fruit. No wonder. The fruit is pretty to our eyes, sweet to our taste, and juicy in our mouths.

Wild strawberries grow on every continent except Africa and Australia/New Zealand. But you wouldn't want to eat some of them. Often, they are really small and tasteless. Some aren't even red.

Ripe, red strawberriesSo how did the strawberries you buy at the store or from roadside stands get to be SOOOOO delicious? Click here for answer.

The great-great-great-great grandparents of today's strawberry come from two different continents—North America and South America. And they accidentally met and started producing a new type of strawberry on a third continent—Europe. This happened about 250 years ago, probably in a botanical garden in France.

In the 1500s, explorers brought one of the grandparents back to France from Virginia. This Virginia genotype got their attention because it had larger fruit and a deeper red color than the European strawberries of that time. And it produced more berries.

But it had to wait nearly 200 years for the other grandparent to arrive from South America.

In the early 1700s, a French spy spotted this strawberry genotype in Chile while he was making maps of Spanish forts. Plants of this genotype produced really big berries—larger than the spy had ever seen—so he brought a bunch of them back to France.

Drawing of two animated strawberries. One strawberry winks at you.Trouble is, they didn't reproduce in France. Not until scientists called horticulturists (hor-ti-CUL-chur-ists) planted them next to the Virginia genotype. BINGO, they started producing baby plants. You see, all the plants from Chile were female and needed pollen from other strawberry plants to produce fertile seeds.

It wasn't long before a new strawberry was born. The horticulturists named it Fragaria x ananassa.

Time Out for a Quiz!

How many seeds in a single strawberry?

a) 50 b) 100 c) 200 Answer

The baby berry was such a success that its great-great-great-great grandchildren are grown around the world today, mostly in the northern hemisphere. The United States is the leading producer and supplies about 20 percent of the world's strawberries. Next are Spain, Japan, Poland, Italy, the Korean Republic and China.

Every U.S. state grows strawberries that have been specially bred for that region of the country. California grows about three-fourths of U.S. strawberries. Florida is the next largest producer. All the different varieties grown in all the different countries can trace their ancestry back to the marriage of the Virginia and Chile strawberry in Europe 250 years ago.

Another Time Out

Strawberries are related to what flower? Answer

How did the strawberry get its name? Answer

Strawberries today are susceptible to a lot of diseases, and growers would like them to be more resistant. They would also like their plants to bear fruit earlier in the season and to make other improvements. The only way to do this is to change the plants' genes.

To find out how scientists are doing that Press here.

 

By Judy McBride, formerly Agricultural Research Service, Information Staff

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Last Modified: 2/14/2011
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